Welcome to the new age of entertainment in India

April 1st, 2008 - 10:19 am ICT by admin  

By Madhusree and Arpana
From giant screens in distant theatres to little ones that can hide in the palm of the hand for your very own private viewing, Indians have made the leap with the country’s $11 billion entertainment industry switching to the digital mode. Welcome to the new age of entertainment in India. The industry, one of the largest in the world, is logging on to communication vehicles like satellites, Internet and alternative screens — mobile phones, ipods, laptops and computers — to generate “new and relevant” content for a growing tribe of tech savvy viewers.

For the average Indian viewer who has more disposable income, enjoys a better lifestyle and has easy access to knowledge pools on the Internet, possession of a means of digital entertainment is a must.

Most upwardly-mobile Indians in Tier I, II and III cities of the country are hooked to electronic gizmos like mobile phones with LCD screens and web cameras, ipods, VCDs/DVD players, laptops and personal satellite dishes - over and above the “good old” personal computers.

Indian users of the alternative screens, as these gadgets are called, are now demanding niche entertainment on their “third, fourth and fifth screens”. These are easier to use in fast-track lifestyles in cities where professionals, like their counterparts in the West, don’t have time to drive to the nearest theatre.

“It’s always easier to catch a little entertainment or check out sites on your laptop or mobile phones connected to the Internet on your way to work,” says advertising professional Vipin Dhyani, who heads the creative wing of Everest Brand Solutions, a premier ad agency based in the financial hub of Mumbai.

According to one survey, nearly 20 million mobile phones have been sold in India between June and September 2007 and there are close to 220 million mobile users in the country.

Internet penetration, pegged at 46 million, has an active base of over 32 million in India, says ae recent report on ‘India’s Digital Revolution: Impact on Films and Television Sectors’ prepared by Ernst & Young for the government and the industry.

And the entertainment industry, including its large Hindi film industry called Bollywood, is gradually waking up to the potential of this huge untapped sector.

Rajat Barjatya, the scion of one of Mumbai’s biggest production houses that has produced mega hits over the decades, is one of the first to venture into mainstream entertainment in the digital domain. It is making India’s first mobile phone serial - over 90 episodes.

“I hate to use the term first. I would rather say we are among the first to make a serious attempt at this. We have produced 90 episodes of three minutes each,” he says.

Last year he launched his company - Rajshri Media - that produces content for Internet, mobile phones and ipods.

“The serial is very indigenous in flavour, compelling and I think people are going to love it.”

Explaining the success of his medium, the content producer says his company uses a potent combination of “themes and technology”.

“That is why we have done well in the last 13 months. We have been providing complementary and alternative revenues to film producers.”

He predicts a proliferating future for digitised content because it will check “piracy of content as well” in the long run.

India’s formal brush with the digital domain started in November 2006 when Rajshri Productions, owned by Rajat Barjatya’s older brother, released their blockbuster movie “Vivah” (Wedding)” across the globe on the Internet.

For the first few days, it was downloaded for free and then it was sold for Rs 400 (a little over $10) per download. Nine months later, it had sold 6,500 downloads.

The Barjatyas are not the only one.

“More and more filmmakers are switching over to digital technology. I have used the UFO technology for my movie, ‘Calcutta, My Love’,” adds critically acclaimed filmmaker Goutam Ghose.

The technology, pioneered by UFO Moviez, compresses films into satellite format for release in theatres in the hinterland, which are difficult to reach physically on Day 1, and also across the world. As a result, more and more Indian “releases” are now becoming global.

The Indian government is also putting a mechanism in place to meet the challenges of digital technology in entertainment.

“The government has formed five working groups to look into piracy, revenue generation, digitisation and exchange programmes to improve quality and infrastructure in entertainment,” says the country’s Information And Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.

Digital technology offers significant cost benefits to producers - the duplication cost of digitised prints is a mere Rs.5,000 (about $125) as against Rs.60,000 (about $1,530) per print on the celluloid format. It is also bringing down distribution costs because transmission is becoming more centralised, akin to television broadcasting, said experts.

To cash in on this wave, says Navin Shah, CEO of Mumbai-based movie-marketing giant P9, the entertainment industry is trying to move beyond the diaspora abroad to the “mainstream foreign audience”.

“There is a lot of curiosity about Indian films abroad. We are making Indian movies compatible with the Western audience.”

“Digital convergence in entertainment and media in India has arrived faster than expected,” says Manoranjana Sinh, chairperson and managing director of the Northeast Multimedia Networks.

And with the entertainment industry billed to grow by 14 percent in the coming years, it only remains to be seen how fast the country can create a supportive environment to further embrace the digital deluge.

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